top of page

Exercise as Medicine: The Benefits of Physical Activity

Before you roll your eyes, hear me out. Exercise truly is better than medications. Name one medicine you can take with the following benefits:

  • Reduces depression

  • Decreases the risk of falls

  • Reduces the risk of early death

  • Reduces the risk of several cancers including colon and breast cancer

  • Decreases the risk of stroke, coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes and metabolic syndrome

  • Decreases all cause mortality (meaning all reasons for death)

And the following “nasty side effects”

  • Increases memory

  • Increases energy and functional fitness

  • Improves life expectancy, quality of life, sleep quality and bone density

  • Increases chance for weight loss and maintenance

When you get a chance, take a look at the Exercise is Medicine fact sheet. Exercise is Medicine (EIM) was formed by the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) as an initiative with the purpose to “make the scientifically proven benefits of physical activity the standard in the U.S. healthcare system.” The vision is to assess every patient’s level of physical activity, determine if the patient is meeting the U.S. National Physical guidelines and provide patients with counseling to help meet the guidelines or refer them to community based resources.

Well now that you know this, why wait for the physician to tell you what to do? Are you active enough? Do you get the recommended amount of exercise? Did you know that there are guidelines for exercise?

The most current guidelines for physical activity are from 2008 and discuss the benefits of physical activity and what it means to be an active teen, adult and older adult.

The guidelines say for essential health benefits:

Adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a WEEK of moderate-intensity activity, (Brisk walking, dancing, gardening, housework, etc.)

  • OR 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) a WEEK of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, (Running, walking up a hill, fast cycling, aerobics, swimming, etc)

  • OR an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous intensity aerobic activity

  • Kids should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily.

See the table from The World Health Organization below for examples of moderate and vigorous intensity exercise:

The GREAT news is that physical activity can be separated into intervals and do not need to be completed all at once, even short intervals count. It all adds up. A great book by Michelle Segar, No Sweat, discusses something called “Opportunities to Move” or “OTMs”. These opportunities all add up. She discusses how walking from the parking lot to the store is an opportunity as is taking several trips from the car to the house to bring your groceries inside. Stop thinking about exercise as work and consider it play or a reward for your body. This is a wonderful book that talks about our motivations. If you continually set yourself up in a vicious cycle, only to consider yourself a failure you need to read this. I have no financial interest in the book, I just think it is easy excellent reading that can help motivate us all and change our behaviors.

Last week my family and I ran a 5k for the Memorial Day weekend festivities, all 6 of us. My oldest son came in first place for his age group. If you ask him why he ran, he’ll say “Because my dad made me”. And he is correct. We do make them exercise, we make them appreciate how physical activity truly is a benefit, even when you first think of it as work. Are we bad parents because we MAKE our kids exercise? Or would we be worse parents if we didn’t? If we didn’t provide our children with all the wonderful benefits physical activity provides, I think we would consider ourselves bad parents. It is never too late to start, for yourself or your family. If you must, take away “the electronics” to get everyone outside. This is an amazing motivator in my house and can work in yours too. I have challenged my family to run a mile every day from March 31 ’til July 4th. So far we are on target with a couple of modifications. If we are sore, it is ok to walk the mile; try to jog or run when you feel up to it. In nasty weather it is ok to walk in place or jog inside the house (the kids did that yesterday). If you consider that roughly 2000 to 2500 steps equal a mile (this really depends on height and stride, but hey this is not rocket science, doesn’t have to be so precise) you too could walk a mile at home, work or even while shopping. When you think about it, you can probably find 15-20 minutes in your day to walk a mile.

I want to leave you with 5 tips to get you motivated.

1. Be Honest With Yourself:

Is physical activity worth the effort?

2. Set a Goal:

No matter how small. Could be 5 minutes today, 7 minutes tomorrow, etc….

3. Tell Someone About Your Goal:

Be accountable, get a buddy, don’t do it alone.

4. Measure Your Success:

Be proud of what you have accomplished. Maybe you didn’t run the mile, but you took the first step, that counts too.

5. When You Slip and Fall…….GET UP!

Imagine me or some other mother you know and love pointing at you, telling you to get up and try again. We all will fall from time to time, that is ok, but you must get up and try again. Backslides will happen, life will get in the way, but make time to care for yourself and put physical activity on your schedule.

So many questions: Is there truth to walking 10,000 steps a day?

What is functional fitness and why is it important? What if you suffer from chronic diseases, is exercise good for you?

Well, those and many more questions will be answered in future blog posts.

For now, I want to leave you with a picture of a boat I saw on a recent walk that seemed so fitting for the occasion. The boat’s name is “All In”.

Are you “All In”? Can you commit to increasing your physical activity? What about the 5 tips, do they make sense?

Please share your comments, concerns and success stories. We would love to hear them.

Live Well,

Dr. A



bottom of page